Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live gave me a strong jolt and another painful reminder just how automatic, deep, engrained and normal this anti-cyclistism and transport-mode discrimination is. It permits you to interrupt and talk over a grieving widow when spelling out her future wishes for road safety. And it goes on unchallenged.
This week, the BBC’s Peter Allen interrupted a bereaved Katy Charlton at a most sensitive moment of the interview. This came in addition to Dr Sheila Hanlon being cut short by BBC’s Bridget Kendall when talking about cyclists’ inherent vulnerability, cycling safety, and new infrastructure solutions, a couple of weeks earlier – Mark Treasure reported it here on his excellent blog in his usual enormously eloquent style.
I’d like to concentrate on what happened at the radio show that was aired yesterday. Admittedly, I am struggling to find words for it. So please forgive me if it sounds off, or edgy or not-quite-right. Please leave a comment below if you have a question or need clarification.
First of all, personally I can not even start to comprehend how Katy Charlton must feel dealing with the loss of a loved-one, with life-changing consequences to her young family and with the wider aspects of the grieving process – let alone facing the radio for an interview to talk about this very tragic and personal event, her thoughts and wishes in public. So unfathomable is the catastrophically unfolding chain of events, a chain of tragic decisions with deadly consequences, whose parts and its total sum were beyond any control of the killed cyclist, her husband.
Having tuned in to the show live, I straightaway felt that Peter Allen’s interview style, the words he used and questions he asked were not exactly sympathetic towards Katy Charlton’s situation. But at that moment I had simply put that down to the vastly tragic complex circumstances, resulting in a genuine uneasiness by Peter Allen to address the enormity of the position and place that Katy Charlton and her young family found themselves thrust into by chance.
The general unease aside, it is this section that really stopped my heart for a second.
Yeah. So, what is, are there any lessons you would like the rest of us to absorb from all this?
Erm. I suppose it’s to do with the vulnerability of cyclists. When passing a cyclist you should make sure you afford them as much space as you would a car. And that really means getting onto the other side of the carriageway. And driving too fast and too close can have tragic consequences. That …
[interruption by Peter Allen talking over Katy Charlton] that’s quite tough sometimes, isn’t it. London for instance …
[trying to complete her sentence] … patience …
[interruption continued, unintelligible words as talking over interviewee] and you’d drive round the city.
Let’s leave it there.
Katy Charlton wasn’t asking for much. To paraphrase “please, when driving, give cyclists enough of your space and patience to save a life”. She was interrupted making and developing that point. Her composure was exemplary then, as it was exemplary throughout the entire interview. The link to the full interview can be found at the end, below.
What fundamentally shakes me up about the conduct of this interview is this.
I am convinced that we would not treat other vulnerable minority groups like that without the challenger (attacker, perpetrator, discriminator, bully, patroniser) being called out and seriously taken to task. As a country, I understand we do want to increase cycling (in particular to rescue an ailing urban transport system in our car-ridden polluted cities with children’s participation being denied).
So, seriously, the discussion must move on.
All I, personally, can think of offering is this: I am happy to speak to BBC editors (etc) offline and take them through this.
As advocates we no doubt are aware of this systemic bias against cyclists.
That’s what we face. We are outside the social norm but in general terms what we do (cycling) is supported by policy and the country’s future needs (space, health, economy, environment…). And we need to keep calling this out, when it happens. We must get the strength to disrupt and blow the dark cover of societal acceptance that allows us to discriminate against people’s transport choice of cycling, probably the most sustainable transport for short everyday journeys.
You could say something like this:
Please don’t kick me around like this. I am someone (or speaking on behalf of someone) who feels rather uncomfortable and quite vulnerable under the current conditions on our roads and I want the infrastructure to improve. It’s my safety that is talked about here. (I want my kids to grow up in a country where they can cycle to school in safety.) Do not assume you understand the situations I regularly find myself in, and through no fault of my own. You shut out my view, unless you ask fair and relevant questions about (sustainable) safety and infrastructure and give me time to explain my side of story and describe my experience.
The radio programmes, below, listen for yourself and make up your own mind.
30 Oct 2015 queued at 05:57 (thanks StopKillingCyclists for posting the youtube copy) BBC Radio 5 ‘5 live Daily’ BBC’s Peter Allen interviewing Katy Charlton
14 Oct 2015 go to 39:00 BBC World Service ‘The Forum’ BBC’s Bridget Kendall interviewing Sheila Hanlon